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COVID-19 Family Film Festival: The Black Stallion

COVID-19 Family Film Festival: The Black Stallion

receives 5 teddy bears out of 5
A 5-teddy bear review for “The Black Stallion”. This is a must-watch for families.

In brief: The Black Stallion is a high quality movie for the entire family…a Coppola film from the 70’s that doesn’t look or feel like that. It will enthrall your kids, provide the excitement that only horse-racing movies can inspire, and bring stunning visuals less dialogue that will leave you appreciating the silence.

Further, The Black Stallion elevates our kids’ movie viewing, from mere “kids’ movies” to a piece that’s pretty close to art – given the slow pace, incredible visuals, and multiple themes running throughout.

In the recesses of my mind (perhaps when I was in first grade and our teachers thrilled us with watching a movie before holiday breaks) I vaguely remember watching The Black Stallion. So I was excited to add it to our list for our COVID-19 family film festival.

I recall it being interesting with a child protagonist and an anthropomorphized horse. I remember there being lots about survival and love between person and beast.

Having re-watched it, last night, as one of our family movies for COVID-19 viewing, all of those themes rang true. Even my kids were thrilled this was added to their COVID-19 schedule.

Unfortunately, there were some dated bits of cultural insensitivities, as well, but not so many that I’d dismiss the movie.

The beginning of the movie has some animal roughness, though I wouldn’t say cruelty. Unfortunately, the rough man tyring to tame the beast (and later who grabs the protagonist by the ear) is Arab. That was furthered with the introduction of the dated trope of the wise, elderly black man who comes in to bestow inspiration on the child. These are the only two people of color in the movie, sadly. And these cliché roles are worth discussion with your children…both for their small roles and cultural presentation.

But the movie is a stunning cinematic experience, especially the “2nd act” when the boy and the stallion are alone on the island.

For a half hour or more there is no dialogue and the scenery of the Mediterranean island is sumptuous. Meanwhile, the visual story-telling is intriguing for parents and children.

The movie rolls along slightly slower than what our pre-COVID-19 attention spans could tolerate. But nowadays, if nothing else, we’re forced to slow down and temper our expectation of instant gratification.

And the Black Stallion is, indeed, spectacularly gratifying, especially for your COVID-19 Family Film Festival.

10 Best Children’s Books in 2020

10 Best Children’s Books in 2020

Obviously many books can serve as the ten best children’s books to delight and educate your children. This is especially true since it’s not about the substance you read to your kids but the act and tone and exposure to words.

But what about the grown-up’s experience? – shouldn’t the best children’s books delight us, too?

I’m far too selfish only to think of my kids when reading. I better be delighted and educated, as well – and that, for me, is what qualifies books for being on a list of the ten best children’s books.

Below are 10 of the best children’s books in my kids’ collection, as well as a few more foregone conclusions for classics that should just be in your collection by default.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud & David Messina – Feelings are sometimes abstract and hard to articulate for kids. Even grown-ups often wonder “what’s the point in being kind for kindness’ sake?” Further, why bullies are mean is particularly complex. But this book gives you tools for explaining the self-interest in being kind and why bullies are mean. It feels like a corporate H.R. in-house self-publish. But trust. You’ll find it unmissable.

Tuba Lessons by T.C. Bartlett and Monique Felix is magical. Plain and simple – evocative illustrations inspiring children to fill in their own blanks. Trust me – open the cover and watch the kids dive in. There are very few words – so challenge your kids to narrate the pictures, themselves!


Little Boy by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds – For those of us who struggle with being present and mindful, this book, with its unique cadence and adorable illustrations helps parents slow down and think of the importance of days made of now.
It’s too bad the book is specifically gendered and focused on a white boy’s perspective. The only improvement would be to expand the lens to universal gender and skin color.

I Stink! by Kate & Jim McMullan The best children’s books lend themselves to creative voicing and a personality that leaps off the page. This, the first in a series, is educational and entertaining and allows the reader to be as ridiculous as possible. You’ll never look at garbage trucks the same way.

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

The importance of cooperation and teamwork is one of the most fundamental we should pass on to our littles. And Little Blue Truck always shows that life is easier when we work together. Further, the rhymes and illustrations are entertaining for everyone.

The Secret Circus by Johanna Wright Similar to Goodnight Moon, this beauty combines uniquely simple illustrations with quiet language perfect for lulling little ones to sleep and allowing grown-ups to take their time with the sparse language and just revel in the quiet of the story.


Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak – – The author of Where the Wild Things Are created masterpieces of childhood wonder and unique illustrations. This series of mini-books allows kids to experience unique stories (and alphabet repetition) in a tiny package that kids can organize, discover and (re)organize.


Press Here by Heuvé Tullet – Reading this book requires children’s interaction giving them a sense of cause and effect. They will insist on executing every page’s instruction and will result in tons of delight. And if your kids are like mine, hours of repetition and ripped pages that have been repeatedly over-loved.

Stuck – Oliver Jeffers – Another element of children’s book magic comes from nonsensical storylines that delight. This is one of those. Just trust me.
How Much is a Million? – Conceptualizing large numbers is tough for anyone. This book actually illustrates a million. It’ll expand your mind and warm your heart.

City Dog Country Frog by Mo Willems While Mo can do no wrong, and all of the pigeon books are must-haves and Piggy and Gerald are modern classics, this wonderful book about a friendship through the seasons gently introduces loss and sadness in a way that may introduce your children to your own tears.

How Big is a Million? by Anna Milbourne & Serena Riglietti

Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s. Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s.

Also, I have to include the basics, without which your kid’s cursed to live a pointless, unfulfilled life. Kidding. (Sorta.)

Honorable Mention: Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd(?). Despite being a parody (knock-off) of one of the best children’s books of all time (see above), its application to modern life is hilarious and apt. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in cleverness.

And all of these bags could be easily carried in the best daddy diaper bag with confidence that your kids will love them and you won’t be annoyed.

Movie Review: A Dog’s Purpose

Movie Review: A Dog’s Purpose

I’m late to the game, but having recently watched it, A Dog’s Purpose becomes more than just a movie, it is a teaching tool for profound topics. I’ve got all the feels for it – a movie that’s beautifully shot, well-acted, charmingly written, and poses questions about mortality, kindness and mindfulness for children and grown-ups alike.

A Dog’s Purpose follows a dog’s quest for his, er – purpose?, over the span of several reincarnated lives as several men’s and women’s best friend.

“Bailey”, charmingly voiced by Josh Gad (so you can tell your children “That’s Olaf’s voice.”) cycles through several lives, some thrilling, some sad, some long, some short.

If you’ve ever had a dog in your life, you best bring some tissues. I mean – why DO we cry so much over the loss of cinema canines? I’m about to foist “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” onto my kid because of the unforgettable tragedy and emotion it conjured in my youth. I can’t wait to share that experience with her. Am I an emotional masochist?

But I digress.

What particularly moved me was the provocative questions the movie inspired: thoughts about reincarnation, mortality, kindness and mindfulness.

The day after watching, on the way to school, my younger kid asked, “Why do dogs have many lives but humans don’t?”

We then had several blocks of talking about profound human beliefs. That led to more spirituality, speculation and religion after I said, “Religion is often what comes from people asking un-answerable questions about the world and about life and particularly about what happens to beings after death.”

He responded, “Uh-huh.”

It was 8:15 in the morning. Too much for him, too.

Anyway.

Talking about the life cycle while watching A Dog’s Purpose when children ask “why does he have to die?” and “Oh, good, he came back to life.”

It’s tough to chat with children about death, but there are beautiful and constructive ways of doing so and develop constructive life-long coping mechanisms. Death is part of life. We shouldn’t deny that fact from our kids.

Kindness entered our post-viewing conversation as we observed the treatment of the dogs by their owners. Some were neglectful, some strict, some were…uh…euthanizing, but most were quite loving. Kindness isn’t a hard concept for children, but it’s often glazed over or discounted. We all could use more modeling of kindness, right?

Finally (and most profoundly for me): mindfulness. Throughout the movie, Bailey is on the search for his (and in one life her) purpose. Discussing with children, “Why am I here?” and “Do I have a purpose in life?” ain’t easy. It’s tough for adults, too. But  it’s a question that renders life stimulating for our feeble brains. (That old “the unexamined life…” adage.)

By the end of the movie, Bailey shares with the viewer: “So, in all my lives as a dog, here’s what I’ve learned:”

  • Have fun (obviously)
  • Whenever possible, find someone to save, and save them.
  • Lick the ones you love.
  • Don’t get all sad-faced about what happened and scrunchy-faced about what could.
  • Just be here now.

Be here. Now.

Isn’t that simple and wonderful and pure?

Life would be so much better for us all if we relentlessly sought a purpose, played more, didn’t get scrunchy-faced about the past or the future and learned to be here – now.

Simple and thought-provoking, A Dog’s Purpose is a must-watch for families.

Netflix’s “Klaus” will Delight, Confound & Tickle

Netflix’s “Klaus” will Delight, Confound & Tickle

A surprising (and unconventional) re-telling of Christmas legends with a cheeky tone leaving you thinking “huh – that was better than I expected.”

Kid will love it – but this review is for you, not them.

Netflix’s ambitious jump into the animated waters is exciting and hilariously convoluted: it’s simultaneously quirky, dark, sophisticated, and cliché.

Another “origin of Santa” story that blends time periods, technology, and even some proletarian messages about haves and have-nots. It left me frequently thinking, “Huh?” but then made me chuckle . The right amount of Where is this going” that I kept engaged and never rolled my eyes.

Your children are elevated because it’s not a vapid movie of inane Santa clichés. It makes them stretch and engages them on a higher level with an invented story involving many societal elements that might confuse them – but the animation keeps them riveted.

Synopsis – Jesper (voice by Jason Schwartzman), an entitled son of some Scandinavian gentry, fails to succeed at Postal School, he is sent to a remote arctic island as a last chance to prove his worth with the challenge of increasing postal use on the island. His own disdain for his job is superseded by the bizarre hatred all citizens of the island hold for each other. Tone changes as he befriends a local teacher (Rashida Jones) and is intrigued by a toy-making carpenter recluse (J.K. Simmons). Comedy ensues and hearts will be warmed like stockings hung by the chimney with care.

Made by the creators of “Despicable Me”, the humor is cynical and funny. So it’s not a Hallmark schmaltzy bit of predictable nostalgia, but it definitely provides the right amount of holiday clichés to warm your heart and bring Christmas cheer.

Give it a try. You might be surprised by the circuitous and fresh take on the over-mined Santa origin story. But it’s not a waste of your holiday time.

Real New York and Techie Thrills

Real New York and Techie Thrills

The fabric of real New York is often obscured by exasperation. The city’s too expensive, too crowded, too corporate and has sold out to international investors parking nefarious earnings in apartments that are driving up prices for all the rest of the people actually living here.

Everything authentic from independent designers to diners has closed cuz rent is too damn high.

But occasionally, one stumbles upon scrappy outposts that harken to the creative energy making real New York colorful and exciting.

This happened to me, recently, and inspired me to actually get off my lazy ass and write one of those forever-threatened (but never executed) Yelp reviews – a love letter to the creative types who pursue passion and make real New York badass.

Dear Louis Rossman – You made me fall in love with New York, again.

So my computer blanked out on me over the summer.

I stood up from typing to refill my coffee, returned seconds later, and the computer had turned off. Weird.

I clicked the track pad, then the space and return buttons (somewhere between two and seventy-six times) with varying degrees of force. Then I hit the on/off switch.

It re-booted and miraculously re-started for fifteen seconds until: poof.

My screen went dark.

And I couldn’t revive it.

The inside of Grand Central is stunning.
Grandiose location, location, location.

The next day, I went to the Apple Store in Grand Central (talk about spectacular location) and the Apple Genius diagnosed it as “electronic anomaly.”

Me: Huh?

Him: It happens more than you realize.

Me: Huh?

Him: Did you have it backed up?

Me: LOLz.

Him: It’s only 2 years old. For $450 we can send it away for a new motherboard.

Me: Will my 736 documents randomly strewn across my desktop be saved?

Him: Most likely not.

Me: Welp, how do I do that?

Him (suddenly under his breath and leaning closer to me): There’s this guy on the Lower East Side. My colleagues around me would be pissed if I told you about him. But go to him.

(And the Genius Bar guy typed out a phone number on his iPad to show me.)

The outside of Rossmann Group - unassuming, but thrilling.
Short on charm, long on results.

A few hours later, I stumbled upon the least charming storefront in New York City and walked in. A dude at a workstation a few feet from the front window had multiple monitors and cameras pointing at him, his desk, his hands, and his face.

View of the inside of Rossmann Group - a cacophony of bustling workers and video cameras.
Cameras at all angles. (I was too afraid to snap pic of him at desk. Sorry.)

He looked at me, said hello, then turned back to his work while saying, “What can we do for you?”

It was very efficient – not overly Midwestern-ly warm, nor in that NYC way of mild annoyance at being in the service industry.

Also, I felt like I’d stepped into Mr. Robot.

He was Louis Rossman. The owner and head technician. Or as he later said to me, “The Mac Janitor.”

I explained my situation, he nodded, took my computer and immediately unscrewed the microscopic screws, himself.

Taking in the entirety of his operation, there were four or five more technicians doing varying things in the workplace – answering phones, organizing boxes, and presumably repairing all manner of tech. It was the organized chaos usually hidden from public eye but that makes real New York so much more exciting. It was thrilling to witness because it had the air of scrappy DIY’ers saving technical lives. I stared until jolted from my awe as Louis piped up at me: Yep. Your motherboard. I can replace it for $350 in a couple days and transfer data for $100.

Me: Is my data safe?

Louis: Is it backed up?

Me: LOL. No.

He pulls some thing looking like a micro thumb drive out of my motherboard and says, “Looks fine.”

He grabs another laptop near him, puts my data thumb drive thingy into that computer’s hard drive, hands it to me and says, “Start uploading to Google drive.”

So I turned on this other random computer that suddenly had all my data on it.

Huh. That’s how it works? Everything that makes my computer mine is imprinted on that mini-thumb drive and plugs into the other doo-hickey that must be a motherboard but looks like the crumb tray in a toaster.

I copied my ten million documents to upload.

Google drive told me it would take approximately 3 hours.

I sat there for one hour watching the status of my upload tick down far too slowly. Meanwhile, Louis was a wonder.

Totally organized chaos.

At the same time that he dissected a computer (I didn’t realize it was mine…his hands worked so quickly and, well…they all look the same), under the watchful eye of his multiple cameras, he calmly answered questions of his employees who shouted out without care of interrupting him, answered the consistent main phone line, and greeted every single European tourist, hipster, delivery person and desperate person like me without the slightest hint of being overwhelmed.

He was a master – unshakably calm at the epicenter of a business driven by panicking techno-idiots like myself. We rubes who dropped, shook, spilled upon and generally abused our phones and laptops were the cogs in the wheel making his business hum at a mind-boggling tempo.

An hour later, he hands me my computer, says, “Stop your back-up. Just put it back in here.”

My computer was fixed.

Him: You had water damage. But I didn’t see any spills.

Me: Weird. Could it be humidity?

Him: Yep.

He popped onto the monitor in front of him and reversed the real-time video screen to show me the motherboard he’d just fixed. He pointed out a circuit that had blown and apparently started a chain reaction. (Or something. Not sure I understood it all.)

And he said, “I record my work for all the nerds who like to watch these videos of me tinkering.”

That’s what all those screens and cameras were for – his multi-view YouTube station bursting with videos of him tinkering.

It was amazing and hilarious.

And he only charged me for the new motherboard.

Louis – you fixed my computer in an hour and for $100 (and a week) less than Apple.

You’re the real deal and you make the fabric of real New York so much more livable.